Microsoft Loss of Word Could Be Google's Gain

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-08-19 Print this article Print

Don't think that Google and other providers of word processing software aren't watching the Microsoft vs. i4i case with interest.

Here's a rundown as covered by my eWEEK colleagues if you haven't been following Microsoft's latest legal headache.

Last week, on Aug. 11, a U.S. district court in Texas issued a permanent injunction barring Microsoft from selling recent versions of its Word software because it violates a patent for XML technology held by i4i, of Canada.

That ruling, combined with another patent violation by Microsoft of i4i's technology, stood to cost Microsoft some $300 million in fines on top of the ban on using Word within the next 60 days.

Yesterday, Aug 18, Microsoft filed a motion to stay the court ruling.

To be clear, the injunction wouldn't prevent existing users of Word from using the software they already license from Microsoft.

However, it could prevent Microsoft from selling any versions of Word 2003 or Word 2007, and force the company to make changes to its Word 2010 app, part of the forthcoming Office 2010 suite.

What does this mean for Google? It's too soon to say. Microsoft has been down this road at one time or another for virtually all of its software, dragging out legal proceedings for years before settling and going on its merry way.

But what if the court decides to swat Microsoft's stay request aside? What if Microsoft must yank Word from the shelves?

This wouldn't render unusable the millions of copies of Word users have already installed on their various Windows-based PCs. But Microsoft would have to rewrite its code, providing a workaround that doesn't violate the i4i patents. That would take time.

This would put a chink in what has been an unassailable armor in Word, the cornerstone for Microsoft Office, commanding more than 90 percent of the productivity software market.

The Word ban would level the word processing playing field for technology providers trying to muscle in on Microsoft's market. It means Google, Zoho and fellow SAAS (software as a service) conspirators looking for word processing market share would finally have a way in.

I asked Google about this, but the company declined to comment.

Still, Google, by dint of its bank account, engineering resources and emerging marketing campaign for Google Apps, stands poised to be the greatest victor of the Microsoft spoils.

The number of businesses using Google Apps is approaching 2 million. Moreover, Google Docs is in the process of being retooled.

Imagine what would happen if Microsoft was no longer a player in word processing? That would cripple Office and send millions of businesses to alternatives, such as Google Apps.

What do you think? |

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